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Leadership might not be what you think October 21, 2011

Posted by Chris Garbutt in Leadership.
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When thinking of a leader, who comes to mind? To a sports fan, it’s an athlete with a C on their chest. To a little kid, it’s probably a parent or an older sister or brother. To an employee, it could be the boss, team leader or a senior employee. I’m sure you can come up with many more examples, and they most likely are people with very different set of skills.

James MacGregor Burns once said: “leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth”. Before the 20th century, not much literature had been devoted to leadership, but with the advent of management sciences and social psychology, extensive research has been done on the subject. However, one of the problems with “scientific” studies has been the lack of definition of the subject: what is leadership? Phillip Selznick defined leaders as people that “infuse values and purpose into a group.” Since then, anthropologists, historians, political scientists and sociologists have contributed to literature on leadership, and research has shown that the idea that leadership is limited to a select few individuals is a myth – there is no defined gene or set of genes for leadership. It definitely is not something mystical, because leadership is an observable, learnable set of practices.

Something leaders do have in common is self-confidence, a trait that comes from learning about ourselves – our skills, values, talents, and shortcomings. Formal training and education can help, but they are insufficient. Look at Richard Fuld, for example: the former CEO of Lehman Brothers in the U.S. was voted the #1 CEO in 2006, considered a leading expert in hedge funds, yet in 2008 failed as a leader to save his 158-year-old company when it fell over the brink of bankruptcy.

Those that become the best leaders take advantage of a wide range of opportunities: they try, fail, and learn from their mistakes. The student that did not do as well as they wished on a midterm, because they didn’t take the course seriously enough or did not figure out how to organize their time, learned from that experience and excelled on the final exam. That student was then able to transfer their skills to team members in a group project, leading them to success – has this ever been you or someone you know?

Leadership development, then, is self-development. And leadership is about empowering others, because as the group members become more empowered, self-confidence ensues, and the self-confidence and power of the whole group is increased.

– Redon Hoxhaj, Communications Assistant, Office of Student Life

We Can’t All Live in a Tree… October 14, 2011

Posted by Chris Garbutt in Leadership, Student Life.
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But we can do something! That’s a message I try to pass on to students through my work with the Leadership Development Program here at U of T.

One person who actually did live in a tree is Julia Butterfly-Hill. She will be speaking at Hart House on October 18, and will talk about what you can do to have an impact on the community around you. In 1997, Julia climbed 180 feet into the branches of a 1000-year-old redwood tree in California and refused to come down until she received a guarantee that the tree would be protected from logging. She stayed for a very long time.

It’s pretty impressive. Not only did she find the time to get involved in something that mattered to her – protecting an ancient forest from clear-cutting – she did so by climbing into a 1000-year-old redwood tree for 738 straight days! That’s more than two years! In a tree!

There are a million ways to make a difference, and some of them may even complement your studies, your skills and, if you’re lucky, your interests. As a staff member I try and role model that message through my own involvement in my community as well.

But amidst the bustle of classes, clubs, and trying to stay attuned to the latest trends of pop culture, finding the time to seek out that special something that gets your fired up can be the straw that breaks a student’s back. As someone on the other side of a Bachelor’s degree from U of T, I can certainly sympathize. For students and professionals alike, squeezing in the time to make a meaningful difference isn’t always easy.

Now, we can’t all live in a tree, but we can do something! Whether you have ten minutes, or two years, what meaningful contributions can you make to your community? In a sense, what’s your tree?

– Kate Bowers, Student Life Coordinator, Leadership Programs